His father. a singer himself, hoped one day
his son would sing with the Metropolitan Opera—and to that end
saw to it that
Gordon Payne had five years of intensive vocal training—but
like so many gifted young musicians, he had a mind of his own
and got hooked on rock ‘n’ roll.
Today. Gordon Payne is Waylon Jennings’ right-hand man as a
guitarist, singer and harmonica player, and now he is a solo
artist in his own right. There is nothing operatic about
Gordon’s debut A&M album, but he sure knows how to deliver his
Oklahoma born-and-bred rhythm & blues. His music is lusty,
potent, hot and often slyly humorous, the kind of sound you
will enjoy wrapping yourself up in.
“I knew 1 could do the opera thing if 1 wanted to,” Gordon
reflects, “because 1 was one of the top tenors in Oklahoma,
and I had scholarship offers. But it just did not get me off
like rock ‘n’ roll did.
Along with about half of today’s artists, he got his start in
a Baptist Church choir, in Shawnee, Oklahoma when he was six.
By the time he graduated from high school, he was determined
to become a rock musician. In Tulsa, he met J.J. Gale who
became a good friend and a lasting influence in his career.
“I’d only been playing guitar for about three or four years,
and 1 discovered the Tulsa R&B scene was made up of real pros
who’d been playing with Delaine and Bonnie. It was right when
Gale’s ‘After Midnight’ was beginning to break. So 1 got busy,
learned a lot and just got hooked.” The strong impression he
made on J.J. Gale would prove to be an invaluable assist in
Alter a stint in the Army. Gordon returned to Tulsa where he
backed up country acts for six months with the Don White Band.
In 1973, with dreams of stardom in his head, he fled to L.A.
“Tom Bourke (Waylon Jennings’ road manager) and 1 had
everything we owned in my car and $80 in our pockets. We’d
been in L.A. a day and 1 didn’t know how in the world 1 was
going to survive because 1 didn’t know anybody.” Singing songs
like “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” Gordon bounced around town
from one talent show to the next—the first was at the
Palomino—and won every one. “I did pretty well the first
month, but once you’d won, you couldn’t go back and do it
again, so by the second month 1 started going down.”
As luck, fate and J.J. Gale would have it, Gordon met up with
the late Buddy Holly’s band, the Crickets. Drummer Jerry
Allison (“Peggy Sue”/”That’ll Be the Day”) and bassist Joe
Osborn (the Carpenters) befriended him and helped secure him
gigs. Some months later, he came off the road in Nashville.
“I’d always wanted to play with Waylon Jennings," Gordon
recalls. And camped out in a Nashville hotel, he got one of
the most important phone calls of his life. At Gale’s
prompting, it was Waylon himself asking Gordon to come to Las
Vegas to audition. He got the job.
Shortly after joining the Waylors (Jennings’ band), J.J. Gale
and producer Audie Ashworth started recording demos of songs
Gordon had been writing since he was sixteen. Out of those
sessions came the songs "Blackmail” and “Down On Love,” and
the tracks were so polished and professional they appear on
Gordon’s first album. The three friends decided to shoot for a
“I’d been trying to get with A&M for a year,” Gordon says.
“I’d had four or five offers in the past, but I’d been real
patient.” In the end, it was another stroke of fate that
proved his patience was worthwhile. While meeting with Waylon
Jennings to discuss the White Mansions album, an American
Civil War epic written by Englishman Paul Kennerley, Jerry
Moss, A&M chairman, heard a tape of his material.
‘Waylon was playing some of the stuff that the Waylors had
done for Jerry. He heard my song called Oklahoma Posse’ and
loved it. He said, ‘Have you got any more stuff on this guy?’
Tom Bourke said, ‘Ha ha. Have we got more for you?’ So we
played him my album and he said ‘I’ll take it.”’
* * *
In this credit-conscious business of show, it becomes habit to
introduce “new” talent, with x-number of human assets. So
maybe Waylon, Willie, and the boys should be mentioned as
contemporaries of Gordon Payne.
With that out of the way, and a foot in the door, it seems
American to continue with, a quote from his mother, “He never
asked for anything but a musical instrument or a football.”
Around Chickasha, Oklahoma, what else could one ask for?
Twenty years with a guitar in a family that can still jerk a
tear, when they join voices for ‘‘Old Rugged Cross” and ye
shall receive”. Gordon never really needed Miz Anderson’s
classical voice lessons. His football hands were; however,
glad to accept some style from Don White and the latter-day
Swing crowd who hold services at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, the
melting pot of Okie Music. Cain’s was Bob Wills’ proving
ground for his Texas Swing style. Oklahoma has ‘always been
the rag-picker State which can take Texas uncertainty, and
turn it into oil or good music.
Gordon packed guitar and songs for a Korean tour of duty as a
dogface, made it back home long enough to fry-up some burgers
at Payne’s Paw-Paw Drive-in, and then lit out for a real hitch
as one more picker in Hollywood. Leave it to an Okie singing
Hank Williams to confuse the West Coast. Payne has
a “sucker-punch” tenor which can quiet the drunk at the end of
the bar, seat waitresses working for tips, and win $100.
Talent Contests, no contest. He made the rounds for fast-food
bucks and counted the days ‘till Road Time, one way out of
Smog City. He would just as soon not read about the credits
between then and now. Gordon is home again, playing guitar and
harmonica, and singing harmonies with Waylon and The Waylors.
He does not mind print publicizing the first album of his
compositions, a production he recently completed with Audie
Ashworth and J.J. Cale.
Some people rarely doubt their future; others are dragged into
it, and most never give it a great deal of thought. Gordon
does not fool with doubt. He has his family, his music, and
his future together. He earned everything he asked for.